It’s done. We have spent the last couple of weeks researching cameras and underwater housings trying to decide what will serve our purposes the best. We started out looking at things in a random fashion, worked on selection criteria as we went and narrowed it down to two choices by the end. The two cameras it came down to were the SeaLife DC1200 with its own housing and the Canon S95 with an Ikelite housing.
When we arrived home from Bonaire with our now defunct Canon A 620 camera and our Canon waterproof housing we thought we might be able to find a replacement for the camera and just continue on with the housing. The camera has long since been discontinued so we got on the internet and found several used and refurbished ones. The price was right so we prepared to buy a couple of them to last us a while.
Debbie thought before we jumped into the purchase of second hand equipment, we should maybe test the housing. We cleaned it up, thinking that maybe it was a grain of sand or hair on the seal that caused the leak. Then we put the empty housing in the kitchen sink with a weight on top and left it for a couple of hours. No leak. Our son suggested that we test it in the local dive (as in diving board, 5M deep pool) tank. So we rigged up a tether and weight system and Debbie took it over to the pool and submerged it. It leaked. We talked and decided that it would not be worth it to trust the housing even if the replacement cameras were cheap. We can save the cost of the cameras, plus the technology has advanced in the last few years, so we might as well put that money towards an up to date model.
We needed a starting point so our first research revolved around the SeaLife DC1200. It can be viewed at http://www.sealife-cameras.com. This camera was developed specifically for underwater photography and had good reviews. It is a good camera with lots to say for the underwater component of use. I particularly like the fact that the case has a rubberized coat that I think would protect it against bumps and bangs like the one that was the demise of our last housing. (See Camera Housing Update) The cost of this camera is $500 to $600. The controls on the housing are suppose to be easy to use both on land and underwater. The number of preset underwater settings is numerous which allows for many different situations and should make for good pictures, if you can master all of them.
The two things that may have dissuaded us are, first, the fact that after we analyzed the usage of our future camera and decided that most of the time it would be used as a land camera and the big advantage to the SeaLife is that it was developed as an ‘underwater’ camera. That is not to say that it would not function well on land, in fact the reviews indicated that it did preform quite well out of the water, but it was developed for use underwater, which means that the default design would have been to underwater preference. Second, was the fact that there was not a camera in town that we could handle. It is a specialized product and it would be expensive for shops to keep a stock on hand, so even the dive shops special order the product which means we would have bought it sight unseen. This was the first camera we looked at and was still on the list when we had narrowed our choices to two.
Doing our due diligence, we expanded our search to land cameras for which underwater housings were available. I started by visiting the B & H camera website and finding out what housings were available. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/ This took some work as there are many housings from several different companies for several different types of cameras. We knew we were not going to buy and DSLR so that eliminated a good number of choices. Then I made a executive decision and narrowed the camera brands to Nikon and Canon. Both brands Debbie and I had used before to good success. That narrowed the selection again and I started noting the cameras that have housings available. Canon has its own housings and there are several housing brands like Ikelite and Fantasea that house multiple brands of cameras. Again an executive decision and we narrowed our search to Canon and Ikelite.
Debbie started to look into the cameras on the list I had made. This was to be her camera so she was the one that had to make the decision. She did not know Nikon and was quite familiar with Canon so her search started there. We short listed 4, only 2 of which we could view at the local camera mecca, McBain’s. www.mcbaincamera.com/ The Canon G12 and the Canon S95 were the cameras we could see and handle.
The G12 was a camera that had some features that would be of interest to someone that had been used to using a SLR. Most of the controls were accessed by dials and levers. There is also a viewfinder, although not through the lens, which is something that Debbie likes when she takes pictures. It has a slightly larger sensor than most point and shoots that would make for better clarity on large photos and it has the capability of 5 x optical zoom.
The S95 is a much smaller camera, a plus in Debbie’s list of criteria. It has a large 3″ screen on the back. The zoom is only 3.8 x optical but has a f2.0 aperture available in wide angle mode. The big thing in my books is that the camera shoots RAW. Pictures shot in RAW mode can be manipulated to a much greater degree in Photoshop and the like. So, if you do not choose the correct camera settings in the field you can make adjustments at home on the computer.
Back on the internet. Debbie finds nothing but good reviews for the S95. It is the correct size, does everything she wants and more, the only thing and it is a small detractor, is that it does not have a viewfinder.
I start the research on the best housing for the camera. I think that the Ikelite is probably the best constructed and could be the best bet although it is twice the price as the Canon. So we have made some sort of a decision.
Then I noticed that the Ikelite housing has an odd mounting configuration on the base. It has two screw mounts instead of the industry standard of one. We own a Sealife strobe that mounted to our last Canon housing with no trouble at all. My next task was to follow up on whether or not the strobe will fit on the Ikelite housing. Negative. The person at Ikelite informed me that Ikelite uses housing mounts that are unique and do not even use the same threads as a standard tripod mount. He quite honestly was not that helpful or did he seem to have the time to help. He did suggest a company, Ultralight, that may have an adapter that would unite the two items. The lady at Ultralight was even less helpful, suggesting that the SeaLife strobe was junk and she didn’t really have time for what we wanted but did suggest a system that would help. It was a mere $220 on top of the expensive housing and we would have to discard 1/2 of our $500 strobe just to make it fit. You can see where this is heading.
We have used a Canon housing to great success before. The only time we had trouble is when we were shore diving and up to now 99% of our dives have been boat dives so what the heck, let’s go with the Canon.
The Canon housing has one oddity, the dial that operates the ring around the lens will be on the same side of the housing that our strobe will be mounted, so it may be a bit of trouble to access, but we find underwater is a lousy place to start making camera adjustments and we try to have everything set up before we even put the camera into the housing. That means the location of the dial should not be that annoying.
There is a great range of prices on the net. Especially if you do not limit your choice of venues to your own country. The best prices I could find for both the camera and the housing were at B& H in New York. My big concern is that there is always a hassle importing stuff from the States into Canada. As soon as you put in a Canadian address on the website order form, the shipping charges become totally unacceptable.
I called Canada Customs and asked how much the duty is on digital cameras. The answer, 0%, if the camera was a consumer digital model. There is duty on professional models and some specialty items but not on point and shoots. Customs also informed me that if I had paid a fee for the duty and there was no duty on the item I should be able to apply for a refund.
Then I phoned the courier companies and asked how come they charged so much when there was no duty. Their reply was, they did not and it was the seller who was charging the extra. I phoned the seller and they said it was the courier companies that asked for the payments. Where does that money go? At least the seller told me that he would ‘look in to it’, whether he does or not, I may never know.
I did find a way around the prepayment of duty, brokerage fees and the like. I have an account with Fedex. If you phone B&H and place your order over the phone instead of over the net, they can type in your account number and you will be charged for the courier rate only. You will have to pay GST and duty if it applies, but you will be billed directly by Fedex to the exact amount rather than some estimated amount that does not relate to anything where the money ends up in either the seller’s or the courier’s pocket.
The order has been made. We have purchased a Canon S95 camera and a Canon WP-DC38 waterproof housing. As far I can make, it has left Newark and is winging its way towards Edmonton. We’ll keep you updated on how well it preforms.